I wanted to write an article about the religious aspects of Halloween in Austin.
I set out expectantly, seeking pagan groups celebrating Samhain, an ancient tradition that celebrates the dead. I thought I might find examples of Austin Christian groups protesting the holiday or using it as an opportunity to evangelize.
But in a city famous for its Halloween spirit on Sixth Street and in West Campus, I found little mention of religious activity. Sure, there were dozens of Facebook events for Halloween carnivals and fundraisers at churches. But these are not by nature religious events.
Tejas Web, one of the most active Witchcraft communities in Austin, will celebrate Samhain on Tuesday at the Vortex. They’ll erect an ancestor altar, participate in a ritual trance and collect donations for SafePlace, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
“Join us as we journey to commune with our ancestors and descendants,” says the group’s website. “We restore the balance and heal ourselves and our communities.”
And the Mexic-Arte Museum held its annual Day of the Dead festival on Oct. 22, 10 days before the holiday itself.
But that was all I found. No protests, no celebrations of the traditional Oct. 31 Gaelic Harvest Festival, nothing city-wide to mark the Christian All Saints’ Day.
It seems that in Austin, the period from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 is celebrated in an almost entirely secular fashion. And this city is not unusual in that capacity. According to a Sept. 29 Time Magazine article, the National Retail Federation estimated that Americans will pour $7 billion into secular Halloween paraphernalia this year, including costumes, candy and decor.
But Time also recently reported on JesusWeen, an initiative Canadian pastor Paul Ade started in 2002. Ade told Gawker for an Oct. 7 article, “Halloween is not consistent with the Christian faith ... We think people should choose an alternative activity.”
The group uses Halloween as an opportunity to evangelize by encouraging followers to give out Bibles instead of candy.
But on nearly every article and blog I found, including ones posted on Jesusween.com, the concept was met with derision or amusement. Famed conservative Christian Pat Robertson chimed in last month, calling Halloween “Satan’s night,” and online commentors largely scoffed at him too.
In Austin and throughout North America, Halloween is almost entirely a nonreligious holiday. Festivals such as Samhain and Day of the Dead have their own celebrations divorced from Halloween, honoring ancestors while the majority of Americans dress as cats or slutty beer mugs and eat chocolate.
Enjoy your candy tonight, and store up some energy for what is to come — tomorrow begins the ultimate secular vs. religious throw down known as “holiday shopping season.”